Death’s Jest-Book (Dalziel & Pascoe Novel) Paperback – 3 Mar 2003
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‘Few writers in the genre today have Hill’s gifts: formidable intelligence, quick humour, compassion and a prose style that blends elegance and grace’ Donna Leon
‘The finest male English contemporary crime writer’ Val McDermid
‘Reginald Hill’s novels are really dances to the music of time, his heroes and villains interconnecting, their stories intertwining’
Reginald Hill's best-selling duo, Dalziel and Pascoe, return in this brilliant, complex and ultimately moving crime novel: 'Reginald Hill is probably the best living crime writer in the English-speaking world' -- Independent In T.L. Beddoes' play Death's Jest-Book, the dead won't lie still in the grave and the living often wish they could. And Reginald Hill's novel is much the same -- except perhaps for a few more jests. The dead-pan joker, Franny Roote, is working on his dead friend's unfinished biography of Beddoes, and with unfinished business between himself and DCI Pascoe to deal with as well. Three times Pascoe has been wrong about Roote. This time he's determined to leave no grave-stone unturned as he tries to prove that the ex-con and aspiring academic is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Meanwhile, Edgar Wield, Quixote-like, rides to the rescue of a child in danger, and finds he's got a rent-boy under his wing. In return, the boy tips him off about the heist of a pricesless treasure, and soon Wieldy's torn between protecting the boy and doing his duty. His superiors might have worries, but DC Hat Bowler's looking forward to a blissful New Year with the girl of his dreams.The trouble is that that girl is Rye Pomona and her dreams are filled with a horror too terrible to tell -- even though Charley Penn throws all his energies into trying to do exactly that.And over all this activity broods the huge form of Mid-Yorkshire CID's First Mover, DS Andy Dalziel. As trouble builds, the Fat Man discovers (as many deities before him) that omniscience can be more trouble than its worth, and that sometimes all omnipotence means is that you can have any colour you like, as long as it's black. See all Product description
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Hill tries to keep up the intellectual tautness of the plotting of the first book, but never quite pulls it off. It is satisfactory however in lots of ways, reintroducing Pascoe's nemesis, Franny Roote who is the excellent evil doer from the much earlier, An Advancement of Learning, one of the best Dalziel and Pascoe novels. It also follows the compelling story of Hat Bowler and his relationship with his ambiguous and emotionally complex lover which began in Dialogues of the Dead.
This is quite bitty and lacks the flair of the first book, but still kept me turning the pages and is a worthy addition to the series for all its flaws.
The great joy of Hill's writing is that it is such a pleasure to read. He has a very expressive way of bringing characters to life. In short, he relies on the quality of his writing even if, as here, the quality of the plot is not the highest.
Despite what the Amazon details say, this book is a thumping 668 pages long and, in my opinion, it is only the last 20 pages that let the book down.
There are a number of sub-plots, of which the jewellery heist is one, but Hill also throws in Wield's interaction with a teenage rent boy, the developing relationship between DC "Hat" Bowler and Rye Pomona, and something about a German journalist investigating whether the real "Wordman" (from Dialogues of the Dead) had been killed. All these are secondary and all bar one well written - the ending of the jewellery heist (and of the book itself) is clichéd "made for TV" stuff. Terrible.
However the real plot, if such it is, revolves around the developing relationship between the manipulative and charming ex-con Franny Roote and DCI Peter Pascoe. Mostly being developed via a series of letters from Roote to Pascoe the beauty of the book is simply reading what Hill has to write. The plot is secondary, and rather far-fetched, but we spend the first 400 pages or so, not wondering "whodunit?" but "what, if anything has, been done?". This reader, at least, was not impatient - I just loved the artistry in the journey. Quite where we're going is secondary.
"Death's Jest Book" is a supremely well written psychological drama with Roote carefully documenting his actions to a very suspicious Pascoe. Is Roote hiding something? Is Pascoe spiralling into paranoia? Well, that would be telling, but this book is, bar the last 20 pages, a joy to read.
From this readers perspective Hill was back on track and so I rushed off to purchase this book on Friday and finished it today. (For some reason his books come out a few days early in Australia for which I'm thankful).
The opening page of the book reads "The jest is, the dead won't lie still in the grave", and after reading the "Death's Jest-Book" it does sum the book up.
There are various threads in the book. Franny Roote's attempt via written communication to build a relationship with Pascoe, which in turn causes Pascoe much disquiet and a resolve to prove once and for all, that Franny is guilty of someone's murder, but just whose murder is another question. Wield's nascent relationship with Lee, a rent boy he meets in a park, who becomes an unofficial informer on a crime to be committed. Hat Bowler's love for Rye Pomona, and the demons that come to her in both her days and nights. As ever the omnipotent figure that is Andy Dalziel, watches over these goings on as all the threads come together.
All the things I enjoy about Hill's writing are here, the ability to make me laugh out, to shed a tear or two, along with forcing me to think about what the outcome is going to be, without ever making it hard work. Also as per usual for myself at least, a dictionary was at my side.
I would not class this book as a sequel to 'Dialogues of the Dead', but in parts it is a follow up. For those of us who found the 'The Last Dialogue' in that book quite disconcerting, we do get some answers here.
The characterization which is such a big part of this series for me, continues to provide me with much pleasure. I found the book immensely satisfying.
I am more than happy to give the book five stars as four stars would not suffice, but if it was a sliding scale I would probably give it 4.80 stars, to leave space for my favourites which are still 'On Beulah Height' and 'Pictures of Perfection'.
Read and enjoy.